Baby Steps

Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not as I Expected)


By Elisabeth Rohm

By Eve Adamson

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When Elisabeth Rohm started blogging about her family for, she had no idea how many women would respond to her stories about struggling with infertility. Now the actress best known for her role on Law and Order shares what she hasn’t yet: the full story of how in-vitro fertilization allowed her to have a child, how talking about infertility helped her cope with it, and how her desire for a baby and the difficult path that led to one taught her about herself and made her into the woman she was meant to be.

Rohm’s stories—told in a clear, funny, warmhearted voice—cover her untraditional childhood, and her long journey to motherhood. With the frankness of Down Came the Rain and the hope of A Place of Yes, Röhm encourages all women to share their stories because “when women stop talking, women stop being heard.”




I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking,
what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.
What I wanted and what I fear.

—Joan Didion


His penis got soft at the mere mention of it.

“You’re going to write about infertility? You’re going to write about IVF?” he said. He practically cupped his hands over his crotch, like I was going to kick him in the balls.

“What’s your problem?” I said. It seemed selfish to me. I wanted to tell people about it. I even imagined writing a book about it. Too many women, in Hollywood and elsewhere, hide the fact that they can’t have a baby the so-called normal way, and I didn’t want to be one of them. “It’s my body that’s broken, not yours,” I said.

“The world doesn’t need to know about this,” he said. Was he blushing? I suppose he had a say. He was the one I was trying to have a baby with. I was planning to marry him. But I also believed he was wrong.

“Maybe the world does.”

My mother was such a role model of truth-telling that I’ve always known I would say and do whatever I needed to say and do. Whether it’s pursing my passion (acting) or admitting my mistakes (too many to list!) or revealing my big dark secret lurking in the closet to hundreds of thousands of strangers (infertility), I don’t know how to hide the truth, sometimes to a fault. It unnerves people sometimes, how straightforward I am, but I don’t know how to be any other way. I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut. I don’t know how not to say to other women, “What do you think about this?” I want to talk about things, and I come by it honestly.

I’m proud of that. Part of being a strong woman is telling the goddamn truth. I think people are thirsting for honesty, dying for it. Even dudes. Women talk more about it, but we all need it and crave it, especially in a world where reality TV makes us believe we are getting it. But that’s all fake, too. Where is the reality? Where is the truth? If we don’t remember how to speak our truth, how can we be true to ourselves? My mother always used to say, “Whatever you do, don’t lie to yourself.” That’s always been my plan. I’m not going to lie to myself, and I’m not going to lie to you.

This is why I wrote this book. By refusing to lie to myself and speaking my truth, I want to empower you to refuse to lie to yourself and to speak your truth, too. Women need to talk to each other. We all have our stories, our secrets, our private moments, but when they feel unbearable, sharing them can make us realize we are not alone. That we are not freaks of nature, because that’s how infertility can sometimes make us feel.

This is what makes a community. This is what holds us up. This is what makes women strong. I hope you will see this book as the beginning of a conversation, and I hope it’s a long and fruitful one.

Infertility can feel like a dirty little secret. What’s the opposite of emasculated? Defeminized? Whatever the word is, that’s how infertility can make a woman feel. If you can’t have a baby, especially if your heart aches to be a mother, if you’re so baby crazy you can’t think of anything else, infertility feels like a punch in the stomach, a negation of your power. What good are you? You can begin to feel like you are nothing, even if you keep on keeping on with your regular life, never revealing to anyone your private shame. Or you get proactive—we go to such extreme lengths, financial and emotional and physical and intellectual, to have a baby, using every bit of modern technology we can get our hands on. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

But what if we said it out loud to each other, with courage and without shame? What if we reached out to each other and said, “This happened to me,” so that someone else could reach back and say, “That happened to me, too!” Wouldn’t the whole world feel different?

I want to explore what all of this means. I asked myself a lot of questions, in my darkest hours. Questions I felt were too shameful to voice. Now, I want to put them down in this book and share them with you because they might be the questions you’ve asked yourself: If you are infertile, are you still a woman? Are you worth less than a woman who can have a baby naturally? Do you feel like less? And did you do this to yourself? Do you deserve a baby? Do you really even want a baby? If you do, what price will you be willing to pay to get one?

In this book, I want to talk about these questions on every level, in my own life and in yours. I want to tell my story of discovery, fear, struggle, and hope. This is a story about mothers and children, love and sex, career and body, and of course, conception. I want to talk about some of women’s most terrifying and heartbreaking moments—and some of our shallower, vainer moments, too. They all make us who we are. From the day I lost my mother to the day I had my daughter and everything in between, this is my story, but it’s an open door to your story. It’s a question, an invitation. I tell it for myself, and I tell it for you, because we’re all in this together.

When women stop talking, women stop being heard. This is no time to step back and be quiet. This is the time to speak. I’ll go first.

His penis is just going to have to take care of itself.



I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

—Blanche, A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams


I have always found it extraordinary and somehow tragically beautiful that strangers tell each other things they would never tell anyone else, might never have otherwise said out loud, knowing they will never meet again. It happens all the time, in anonymous places—on a subway, on a plane, in a bar.

It began for me in 2007, on a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. I probably looked about sixteen in my pajamas, backpack full of books and camera, my new brunette hair (dyed for a movie) in a ponytail, standing there in the Incheon International Airport in South Korea, waiting to meet with the head of the International Red Cross. But I wasn’t sixteen. I was about to celebrate my thirty-fourth birthday.

The airport was huge, light and airy and full of glass and steel, decorated with trees and flowers in a style I didn’t yet recognize as uniquely Asian. I was ready to do something I thought was important: travel with the Red Cross on a relief trip. I’d been volunteering with them for a while, and now I had the chance to see more of what they were about. These trips were for big donors who wanted to get more involved and see where their money was going. In my case, the Red Cross wanted me to be a spokesperson for them. I jumped at the chance to learn more about the organization and to go to a part of the world I’d never seen, where I might be of service. I had always wanted to do something like this, to make a difference in the world, to feel like I wasn’t just living for myself. So here I was, halfway across the world, in a group of total strangers, waiting for a plane to take me to Vietnam.

My fiancé, Ron, had bowed out of the trip at the last minute. A clothing designer, he owned a popular and swanky Hollywood boutique, and business all but shut down when he left. Things were not in a state for shutting down at the time, and when he first told me he couldn’t join me, I was disappointed. I’d been thinking of the trip as “our trip.” But then I began to see it as “my trip,” a chance to regroup and find myself again. I’d been through a lot, career-wise. I’d recently quit my job playing Serena Southerlyn on Law & Order, and my life hadn’t exactly changed the way I imagined it would. Maybe I was looking for an escape, but now I pictured myself as the intrepid traveler, off to the other side of the world. I would be the person I imagined I could be when I was working long hours on the set and dreaming of freedom. At least I’d be one of the versions of myself I’d imagined, when my life was full of possibility.

Now, my life seemed precarious and full of panic. Or something. I’d imagined fabulous things would just happen to me when I left the show, and when they didn’t, I realized I might have to go out and find them myself. I didn’t exactly have doubts about leaving a successful acting job with a regular paycheck, but I was feeling a little bit lost. What was next for me? There were so many things I wanted in life, or thought I wanted. But whenever I turned my mind to them, they seemed to float away toward something else, like those lights behind your eyelids that you can never quite catch when you try to look directly at them with your eyes closed.

I wasn’t focused. I wasn’t driven toward any one path. I was a million people waiting to happen, and some part of me hoped this trip would shake me out of my shoes or hold a mirror up to my face or that I’d somehow have an enlightened moment, an “aha” moment, so that I could come back home to Ron knowing who I really was and where I wanted to go next.

And Ron . . . my Ron. As I stood there in the airport, thrilled with what might be about to happen to me, I didn’t miss him yet, but I was sorry for what he might miss on this great adventure. I thought I loved him. Maybe I loved him. I did love him, in my way. But I had a history of running from commitment, and although I hadn’t had the urge to run from Ron yet, although we actually seemed surprisingly compatible, I wondered what kept driving me away from men who loved me. I had a lot of soul-searching to do. At least I knew that much.

This time alone would be clarifying, I decided. I wanted love in my life. Marriage, a family . . . didn’t I? I’d always known I wanted to be a mother. But my own strong single mother, who kept us afloat after the divorce when we struggled emotionally and financially to make it on our own, my mother who always went in her own direction no matter how weird and anti-establishment it was, had raised me alone, so it was hard for me to imagine how to reconcile relationships with my desire to be like her. I wasn’t sure why I thought that going to Cambodia would answer any of these questions, but travel has a way of wearing down the layers of a habitual existence, revealing what you’re really made of. I wanted that. I feared it, and quested after it.

Twenty-four hours after boarding that plane to Vietnam, I stepped through a doorway into a room filled with young women and small children. I said hello in Vietnamese to a mother breastfeeding her child. She smiled timidly at me. The room was busy with the sounds of babies and children and young women murmuring and cooing or laughing and sharing their stories in a language I didn’t understand. I stood with the other Red Cross volunteers and donors who had joined us on this trip, waiting to be introduced to the crowd and the Red Cross people in charge of this event, where young women would receive information, guidance, and help raising their children.

Suddenly, a young mother thrust her child into my arms. For a moment, I didn’t quite know what to do. I looked at her, startled. She smiled and nodded. Then I looked down at the bundle in my arms. A child. A baby. Tiny, cinnamon-skinned, perfect. I cradled him. I tried to make him smile. But what did I know about babies? The humid air was thick with the smells of jungle and heat, and I felt sweat trickling down my back, but I held the baby tighter. The whole place felt foreign and strange to me. I must have looked foreign and strange to these young mothers, and yet this woman had trusted me with her child. Why? What did she sense about me? Was it my mother potential?

I held the tiny baby boy closer. I stroked his shock of dark hair. He was warm and calm, utterly content. Then, as quickly as he had been given to me, the baby was whisked away, only to be replaced by another—a little girl this time, who stared into my eyes and gave me a half smile. It was a gesture of respect, to let me hold their children, and I felt deeply honored and moved. Did they assume I was a mother? I was older than most of them, so to these women, of course I was. It is what women do. That’s how they must see it. Even though I’d barely given it a thought yet. I felt foolish suddenly, thinking I was still too young to have a baby.

As we moved quietly through the crowded room in that tiny house, jostling women breastfeeding and juggling little ones, I felt comforted and buoyed up by a sweet chaos I had yet to fully understand. Clinic workers held charts out in the front of the room. They educated the women on proper care and hygiene. Most of the women had long black hair and golden skin, and many of them looked barely twenty years old. I was part of a sea of young mothers. Would I be like them someday?

It struck me suddenly that even with their economic and social hardships, having a baby seemed like the most natural, easy thing in the world. And where was I in that scheme? It was over a decade since I’d been twenty years old. I began to wonder, theoretically at first but then with an increasing urgency, if I perhaps ought to get going on this business of having a child. Sure, I was only thirty-three, but as I looked around, I wondered if I, like so many American women, was thwarting the natural order. Had I been too busy to notice the ticking of my biological clock? Had I taken fertility for granted, assuming I had all the time in the world? Had my body stopped sending me signals because I’d ignored them for so long? In this room, I felt like an older woman, someone who had surely already had all her children. Why hadn’t I felt more urgency about becoming a mother? Was I that far removed from the natural cycle of life? Where was my baby? Would my baby ever exist? Why hadn’t I thought about any of this before now? These are the questions that began to overwhelm me as I stood in that room full of beautiful mothers and beautiful babies.

I could hear the click-click-click of the Red Cross photographer’s camera shutter as he captured the scenes and characters in the clinic. Jenny, a Sigourney Weaver look-alike and a Red Cross donor, held a little boy, tears spilling down her cheeks. I knew she had two little boys at home. The sight of this malnourished child meant something to her, something different than it could mean to me, although I found it tragic and moving and heartbreaking, too. “My boys are so lucky,” she whispered, in wonderment.

Patty, another wealthy donor, had skipped her characteristic red lipstick today. It would have looked out of place in this crowd. She looked warmer, more motherly. “It’s harsh the first time, isn’t it?” she said, patting Jenny on the back. Then she turned to me. “You want kids, Lis?” she asked. How many times had I heard that question?

“Yes,” I said, feeling surer. “Do you have them?”

“I never did,” Patty said, with no regret. She had such a maternal nature, the answer surprised me. “These are my kids. This has been my life’s work. This is how I am a parent.”

I didn’t have to ask her if it was enough for her. Clearly, it was. I wondered at all the ways a woman can be a mother. Would this kind of work be enough for me? Or did I want my own baby? The question hung in my mind.

After a week in Vietnam visiting orphanages and hospitals and handing out medicine and food and vitamins and information to young women and their babies, our little group moved on to Cambodia. I missed Ron and I felt like I was living in my head. I was also culture-shocked and a little disconcerted by these new maternal feelings. I felt turned inside out. I’d wanted the ground to shift, and there it was. Now that we were in Cambodia, I felt even more moved by the plight of the people we visited with the Red Cross.

Cambodia wasn’t what I expected at all. It was supposed to be an afterthought, a quick visit during the last forty-eight hours of our trip, but I found myself surprisingly head over heels in love with a culture that brimmed with kindness, enlightened simplicity, and ancient beauty. I was so in love, in fact, that I decided to extend my trip so I could stay another week after everyone else in our group of aid workers and some of the Red Cross’s more important donors had gone home.

I would turn thirty-four the next day. I wanted to celebrate my birthday in Cambodia. Alone.

But I had a lesson to learn first, one that would resonate with me for the rest of my solitary week. One that would come from a stranger.

One of the last donors to leave, a rugged, tanned, and laid-back Texan named Jack who’d joined us after a vacation in Thailand, offered to share a car with me from the hotel to the market on his last day. I was happy for the company. I’d admired him throughout the week. He had a sincere, brutally honest way about him, but everything he said was tempered with a radiant smile that put people immediately at ease. We spent the greater part of the afternoon wandering through the tables and stalls piled with silk scarves and bags, jewelry and books, bottles of palm wine and woven baskets and wood carvings and clothes.

“So, what next?” he asked me in his slow Texas drawl, as we walked in and out of the darkened aisles of stalls. At first I thought he meant which market stall would we browse through next. Then I realized he meant something else. We’d been talking about the orphanage and what we might buy for the children there. I realized he was talking about children. The whole week had been so full of children.

“I’m getting married,” I said, too quickly, as if that was an answer to his question. I was thinking of the babies, and of course marriage was the first step, wasn’t it? Ron had proposed, and I had said yes. I’d said yes to others before, and I’d never gone through with it, but with Ron, it felt different. We’d talked about it a lot. We had a similar moral compass and similar goals. He wanted a family someday, and so did I. We were on the same page, so this was what I was supposed to do, or so I assumed.

“Wow, that’s great!” He beamed, and I could tell his happiness for me was genuine, coming from one of those rare, legitimately blissful married people.

“Because I’m ready for a family,” I rushed to explain, almost as if I wanted to prove that this, rather than true love, was my reason for getting married. At the back of my mind, I wondered why I would want to prove such a thing. Why was I making excuses? Why did I feel the need to justify anything?

I rushed on: “I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I had a pretty fucked-up childhood and I’ve so looked forward to getting it right. So . . . marriage.” I stifled the urge to make it a question.

“Ah, me too, yes, me too,” he said, but I could hear the hesitation in his voice. Had I overshared?

“Do you guys have kids?” I asked.

“Well, we tried,” he said with a sigh. “But no. We kind of missed the boat on that one.”

I stopped walking. “I’m so sorry.” I didn’t know what to say. His answer took me by surprise. He seemed like a man who would have children, even grandchildren. My mind shot back to the day in Vietnam when we’d visited the clinic, and what Patty had said about the way she had become a parent—by making her work with orphans a central part of her life. Is this what Jack was doing, too?

He’d just shared something intimate, and conscious of this, and of my role as that stranger he would never see again, the one to whom he could express the deep things in his heart, I began walking again, not looking at him, nodding. Giving him space to continue.

“We got married later,” he explained. “By the time we started trying, it was a little too late.” He seemed to shrug it off, but I could hear the tone in his voice, like an echo from a hole where something should be that never will be.

“I’m really looking forward to going to the orphanage tomorrow,” I said. “Did you guys ever try to adopt?”

“Yep. Afraid we failed that test, too. But we’re happy and fine without children. It wasn’t meant to be for us.”

I wondered how someone could say that. It was an alien concept to me. Happy and fine without children? And yet, here I was at almost thirty-four, having barely given it a thought. I hadn’t exactly organized my life around a long-range parenting plan. I began to feel anxious, like maybe I’d made a mistake. Had I wasted the last decade working and finding myself? What if—and this seemed like a long shot, because I didn’t consider myself “old” by any stretch—what if I had missed the boat like Jack had?

“That’s why I’m forging ahead,” I explained, with new resolve. “It’s time to get married. I’ve waited long enough. I don’t want to miss the opportunity. I’m ready to get settled down.”

“Love and family are two different subjects, of course. You should really love him. You should want to be with him, regardless of whether children are in the cards. Otherwise, it’s not right. Family’s not enough of a reason to get married. You’re going about things backwards.”

I didn’t look at him. We walked past a table piled with fruit and a stall waving with bolts of silk. I loved Ron. He loved me. But the words echoed in my mind: Love and family are two different subjects, of course.

“Having a baby won’t fix anything,” he said. “It’s easy to get obsessed with the idea of a baby. All you see is baby, baby, baby. Believe me, I know.” He paused. “But trust me. Wait until you’re a hundred percent ready.”

“But you waited, and . . .” I paused. I didn’t want to be hurtful, but his advice seemed to contradict what he’d gone through. I decided to focus on me. “I’m ready now! I’m ready to love a child!” I could hear the emotion, the desperation in my voice. The need. The want.

“That’s been pretty apparent here on this trip.” He smiled. I smiled, too, remembering the feel of those tiny babies in my arms. “We can all see that you want to be a mother.”

They could see that? It felt new to me—ancient, and yet, new. I’d always wanted to be a mother, theoretically, but this trip and all those children had galvanized my maternal feelings. They felt more real than they ever had before.

“I could have ended up with any of a dozen different guys, but I wasn’t ready. It’s all about timing, right? I’m ready now. I’m ready for the whole marriage thing.” I could hear the lack of conviction in my voice, but I refused to give in to that doubt. I was thinking about all the times I’d run away from relationships. But Jack had convinced me I might be running out of time. I felt even more urgency than before.

Then he told me something I’ll never forget, something that changed my life.

“Well, I’m gonna put it to you quite simply, Lis. Go home and freeze your eggs.”

“What?” I stopped again. Freeze my eggs? I’d never even heard of such a thing. Eggs? It sounded so unromantic and clinical and also bizarre. I guess I knew women have ovaries and all of that, but I’d never really thought about human babies coming from eggs. I imagined sitting on a nest of eggs, like some giant duck or chicken. It made me laugh.

“I thought babies came from storks,” I said.

“I’m serious,” he said. “Freeze your eggs. Then you’ll have the time to figure out if the relationship is the right one for you. You’ll have time on your side, and you won’t feel rushed to make a decision either way. Because you’re right—the time is now and timing is everything. You aren’t getting any younger. It won’t be long before it’s too late.”

“Too late?” I blushed. As an actress, I’m conditioned not to talk about my age. We’re supposed to remain ageless. “No, I’m still young,” I protested. “I don’t want to freeze my eggs. Why would I do that? That sounds so . . . I want to do it the old-fashioned way.” I felt a little dizzy suddenly, in the warm spring air.

“You’re thirty-four tomorrow, Lis. You’re running out of time. I waited to marry the love of my life, but she was thirty-seven, and our time was out. I wish someone had told her what I’m telling you now. I’m doing you a favor. Get control of your destiny.”

“But . . .”

“The clock is ticking, but not for you to make a decision about whom to love. Don’t marry someone because you want to have a kid, Lis. Don’t do a thing like that.”

He was quiet after that, as if he knew he’d said enough. I let the words echo in my head. I didn’t say anything, either. I was stunned at the idea of freezing my eggs. It seemed so utterly unromantic, and I’m nothing if not unrealistically, pathetically romantic. And I found it very hard to believe that I might already be on the steady downward side of fertility. Could it be?

But I knew Jack was wise on two counts: he knew what real love was, and he knew the heartbreak of infertility. Maybe I should consider his advice. I thought about all those young girls with their babies in Vietnam. I was at least a decade older than most of them.


On Sale
Apr 30, 2013
Page Count
256 pages

Elisabeth Rohm

About the Author

Elisabeth Rohm has appeared in many movies and television shows and currently has a recurring role on Lifetime’s The Client List. She has been featured in InStyle, People, and USA Today. Her popular blog appears on, and she lives with her family in Los Angeles.

Eve Adamson has written or co-written more than fifty books, including Bethenny Frankel’s recent bestsellers.

Learn more about this author